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FAA halts Lakewood terminal expansion, demands skydiving inclusion

Photo credit to Lakewood News NetworkThe FAA ordered the Lakewood Airport (N12) to halt its two-story terminal expansion in the name of aeronautical diversity. Mounting tension between airport officials and a skydiving company has led to an order from the FAA, demanding the airport allow skydiving services. The Lakewood Airport is a GA airport in Lakewood, New Jersey and operated and managed by the Lakewood Township Airport Authority. The airport had plans to add a two-story terminal building with public meeting facilities, a restaurant, an emergency services facility, aircraft hangars, additional tie-down spaces, a helipad, self-service fueling, a public space for plane watching and a larger transient parking area for the existing 191-acre grounds. Asbury Park Press reports that N12 has been trying to expand its terminal for years and has discussed developing a nearby 50 acres for possible industrial buildings, a warehouse and a health care facility. The airport has dealt with the scorn of Michigan-based skydiving service, ISKyDive America. The work is on hold and the company and FAA are demanding that the Lakewood airport allow the skydiving company to use the space for recreational parachuting before any work is approved. "I don't understand why tens of millions of dollars in development is on the hook for someone who wants to drop parachutes," Mayor Ray Coles said to APP. "They had said that until we figure out what to do for this parachute group they will not approve our development plans for the area around the airport." The original Lakewood Airport was built after WWII and consisted of a gravel strip with a small FBO and a Civil Air Patrol squadron stationed there. Skydiving interest grew with the airport and according to Project PI, work began in January 1963 to build the Lakewood Sport Parachuting Center. The first jumps took place on June 12, 1963. APP reported that the interest in skydiving waned in the 1980s after a series of accidents and deaths. There were incidents in 1964, 1965 and 1976, including when one woman's chute failed to open during a jump in 1965 and she later sued the skydiving service after the accident left her disabled. Skydive California reports that skydiving deaths have dropped from a 1961 report of 11.12 fatalities per 100,000 skydivers to 0.51 per 100,000 in 2022. The United States Parachute Association reports that there were 10 civilian fatalities reported in the U.S. in 2023, which is the lowest number of annual deaths since statistics began being recorded in 1961. Just 10 years ago, in 2014, there were 24 deaths.Sky diving deaths from USPA "In the early '80s it stopped," said Steve Reinman to APP, executive director of the Lakewood Industrial Commission. "I was in Lakewood, there were some stories and some incidents, there may have been one or more accidents, it was privately owned at the time." The Lakewood Township bought the airport in the mid-1990s for about $10 million, according to APP. Negotiations are ongoing with the FAA and ISkyDive America to allow for skydiving at the airport once again. "We have tried to work out some arrangement to see if we could have a drop zone in Lakewood but not at the airport," said Steve Secare to APP, Lakewood township attorney. "We are in communication with them but I am not saying we are getting that much progress." Lakewood News Network reports that airport officials have expressed safety concerns over skydiving services at the airport with the existing traffic challenges. The FAA demands the inclusion of skydiving services to be "aeronautically diverse" and ISkyDive America's CEO Luther Kurtz defends this position. This is not the first time the FAA and Lakewood Airport have been at odds, with the FAA previously objecting to an increase in banner flights at the airport in 2016. The FAA includes in its airport remarks for N12 that there are heavy banner towing operations from April through October. Banner towing is another dangerous aeronautical activity and the frequency at N12 is another reason airport officials feel the traffic is too tight to allow for skydiving services. "You have 20 planes a day that are making multiple (banner flights)," Reinman said to APP. "And that is a lot of traffic between Memorial Day well into September and sometimes October." The FAA insists that skydiving operations are treated like any other aeronautical activity and be given the same access to the airport as recreational or banner towing operations. Talk continues and locations outside of the airport are being proposed. The Lakewood Airport's expansion plans will remain on hold until an agreement can be reached.
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